Feds to require permits for Togiak refuge rivers

Posted: Wednesday, October 06, 2010

ANCHORAGE - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will require anglers to obtain permits on float trips on some rivers in the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge.

One is the Kanektok River, a navigable waterway, which is a change that agency officials acknowledged will be opposed by the state of Alaska.

Gov. Sean Parnell announced last week the state would intervene on behalf of a 70-year-old Alaska man stopped for a "safety check" by National Park Service rangers while operating a river boat on the Yukon River within the Yukon-Charlie Rivers National Preserve.

On shore, the man was handcuffed and charged with operating a boat without a state license, interfering with a government agent, violating a lawful order of an agent and creating a public nuisance.

The state owns submerged land under navigable rivers and Parnell contends Park Service patrols are an incursion on the rights of Alaskans.

Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Bruce Woods said Tuesday the agency is concerned with what fishermen do on shore.

"Our intent is not to control traffic on the river but to control access to refuge lands," he said. It is impossible to float the Kanektok without camping.

Messages left with the offices of the governor and the attorney general were not immediately returned Tuesday.

The proposed permits are part of a new public use management plan in the Togiak refuge, the first revision since 1991.

The southwest Alaska refuge covers 4.7 million acres, an area the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island.

The Kanektok, Goodnews, and Togiak rivers are home to salmon, rainbow trout and other fish species. Subsistence fishermen from seven villages rely on them and the rivers attract sport anglers from around the world.

Cape Peirce on the southwestern tip of the refuge is one of only two regularly-used land-based haulouts for Pacific walrus in North America. Up to 12,000 male walrus may haul out there at one time, according to refuge officials.

Under the revised plan, all visitors to the Cape Peirce Wildlife Viewing Area would be required to obtain a permit. A commercial guide or refuge staff would accompany groups during peak-use periods.

Permits would be required for using refuge lands along the Kanektok River and all forks of the Goodnews River during king and coho salmon fishing seasons.

The agency would limit unguided float trips along the Kanektok to one new group every other day, alternating with guided trips on the other days, and would impose similar limits on the Goodnews.

The agency will have to implement regulations to institute permits and the public will have a chance to weigh in. Woods said the regulations probably cannot be approved for next year.

"It seems unlikely that this would be able to happen that fast," he said.

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